This is part of an occasional series written by LCB Co-Founder and CEO Michael Stoller.
When I started out in senior living back in the 1990s, knowing your customer usually meant greeting a prospective resident and a family member at the door, giving them a tour, and signing on the proverbial dotted line. Ok, that’s a slight over simplification as it still took several touches, but it was a far simpler world than today. Virtually all those seeking senior living were doing so for a singular reason: “Mom can’t live at home anymore.” Competition was scarce, and the market was largely one-dimensional in its goal to provide basic housing and services. Our job was to build communities that fit the bill, and we worked hard to meet that standard.
Like so many other sectors of the baby boomer economy, senior housing has changed exponentially since then. Today there are upwards of 25,000 senior communities in the US, with over 700,000 residents. Residences are designed to satisfy a wide range of consumer expectation: from affordable to luxurious, from independent living to assisted living and memory care, from low acuity to high acuity. Seniors are offered dozens of programs and services that never existed before, including myriad activities and social events. While needed, desired and welcome, this level of choice can cause a level of confusion among prospective residents about what services apply to them (or will in the future), as well as what the real differences are among the communities they’re considering.
The organizations who stand out in the industry are those who train their associates to be sensitive to this potential confusion, are able to address it through informative and respectful dialogue, and know their market and specific differentiators. We all swim in this terminology every day; however as savvy and industry-educated as the general population has become, many of the nuances are unfamiliar to people walking through our doors.
At LCB we remind our associates that the choice these prospective residents and their family members are making isn’t a one size fits all choice, but a quality of life decision that they control. And we teach them to treat these conversations accordingly, both as respectful learning opportunities and as a chance to show our product.
If we do our job right, we’re giving seniors a chance to reconnect with the pursuits and interests that define who they are and make them feel like themselves again. Above all, we know that we have as much to learn from our potential residents as they have from us – and in an industry more sophisticated than ever before, knowing your customer has never been more critical to success.